Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner is final authority on facts, HC can interfere only on law issues [read order]


In a decision dated 23 November 2016, the Supreme Court has held that under the scheme of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner is the last authority on facts and that the Parliament has thought it fit to restrict the scope of the appeal only to substantial questions of law, being a welfare legislation. Therefore, the power of the high court in appeal is restricted unless a substantial question of law is involved in the appeal. This order was passed by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, in the case of Golla Rajanna Etc. Etc. v. The Divisional Manager And Another, Etc. Etc. [Civil Appeal Nos. 11114-11119 OF 2016 (Arising out of S.L.P.(C) Nos. 6696-6701 of 2015)].

In the above case before the Supreme Court, the appellants were aggrieved by the order passed by the High Court of Karnataka (Circuit Bench at Dharwad) whereby the compensation awarded to them has been drastically reduced.

The Insurance Company had challenged the order passed by the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner, under Section 30(1) of The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 mainly on the ground that the injuries had not been proved before the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner, and therefore, the appellants were not entitled to the compensation as awarded by the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner. The High Court had clearly held that … “the dispute is in respect of the nature of injuries suffered by the claimants”. The High Court went further to hold that on the basis of the available evidence, the disability would only be to the  extent of 5% of the whole body resulting in 5% of the loss of earning capacity. Accordingly, the compensation had been reworked mainly on the basis of the extent of injuries, i.e., on the basis of the facts of the case, and there was no substantial question of law involved.

Supreme Court referred to Section 30(1) of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, which is reproduced below:

30. Appeals.- (1) An appeal shall lie to the High Court from the following orders of a Commissioner, namely:-

(a) an order awarding as compensation a lump sum whether by way of redemption of a half-monthly payment or otherwise or disallowing a claim in full or in part for a lump sum;

(aa) an order awarding interest or penalty under section 4A;

(b) an order refusing to allow redemption of a half monthly payment;

(c) an order providing for the distribution of compensation among the dependants of a deceased workman, or disallowing any claim of a person alleging himself to be such dependant;

(d) an order allowing or disallowing any claim for the amount of an indemnity under the provisions of sub- section (2) of section 12; or

(e) an order refusing to register a memorandum of agreement or registering the same or providing for the registration of the same subject to conditions:

Provided that no appeal shall lie against any order unless a substantial question of law is involved in the appeal and, in the case of an order other than an order such as is referred to in clause (b), unless the amount in dispute in the appeal is not less than three hundred rupees:”

(Emphasis supplied)

Supreme Court held that unfortunately, the High Court has missed this crucial question of limited jurisdiction of having power to interfere only where unless a substantial question of law is involved in the appeal, and has ventured to re-appreciate the evidence and recorded its own findings on percentage of disability for which also there is no basis. The whole exercise made by the High Court is not within the competence of the High Court under Section 30 of the Act.

It was held that the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner, having regard to the evidence, had returned a finding on the nature of injury and the percentage of disability. It is purely a question of fact. There is no case for the insurance company that the finding is based on no evidence at all or that it is perverse. Under Section 4(1)(c)(ii) of the Act, the percentage of permanent disability needs to be assessed only by a qualified medical practitioner. There is no case for the respondents that the doctor who issued the disability certificate is not a qualified medical practitioner, as defined under the Act. Thus, the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner has passed the order based on the certificate of disability issued by the doctor and which has been duly proved before the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner.

Accordingly, allowing the appeals, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment passed by the High Court and restored the order dated 16.02.2009 of the Labour Officer cum Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner, Division No. II, Bellary.

Read full order of the court:

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